Growing Community: The Orchard Phoenix
Writer Shannon Severson
Step onto the two-acre grounds of The Orchard Phx and and you’re hit with the keen desire to relax and stay awhile. What began as a citrus farm in the early 1900s is now an unexpected oasis in Central Phoenix, mixing old and new elements to create a space that feels warm and welcoming — as if it has always been here. The signature water tower, representing the well on the property, is surrounded by pomelo trees, and the scent from the 80 citrus trees on the property perfumes the air. With three different dining options and ample outdoor space, it’s certain to become a favorite for couples, families and large groups.
“We are here to celebrate Arizona, the history of Phoenix and the five Cs of Arizona: cotton, copper, citrus, cattle and climate,” says Lucia Schnitzer, one of the owners of the project, along with her husband, Ken, and partner, Jerry Mansoor. “We have tried to capture that in the decor and on the menu. We hope that we have created an oasis in the desert that will really delight people.”
Pomelo is The Orchard’s full-service restaurant, serving contemporary American food. The attention to detail and sense of history are glimpsed throughout this building that was once the adobe homestead of the Wasser family in the 1920s. Original fixtures are complemented by vintage elements: the copper tea service atop a mid-century modern secretary in the entry, stamped tin ceilings and stained glass elements by local artist Chris Powers. Large black-and-white aerial photos on the walls trace the history and development of the property through the yeas. Throwback bar stools invite you to sit down for one of the specialty cocktails — including the Pomelo Spicy Mule with Hatch green chile vodka, or the Desert Blossom, which blends tequila with Elderflower liqueur, lavender syrup, fresh basil and blueberry.
The cozy lounge was once the home’s living room, boasting a massive brass chandelier; tea sofas with mid-century flair; stamped concrete floors that mimic Saltillo tile; the original, working fireplace; and a quirky assortment of vintage whiskey bottles that belonged to Ken’s grandfather. The home’s basement, enhanced with natural light from clerestory windows, is one of the many private spaces available to groups on the property, along with the homestead’s original dining room, flooded with light from windows on three sides and painted a riotous shade of lime green. At its center is a massive, live-edge dining table hewn from a century-old eucalyptus tree that once stood on the property.
The dining room, with its large windows, modern and vintage light fixtures, and glass doors, draws in the green from the patios and lawns outside, but keeps the warm feeling with alder and mahogany wood elements. Diners will enjoy hot pizzas from the huge oven imported from Italy — so large that the kitchen was actually built around it after installation.
In addition to pizzas, the menu continues to pay homage to the bounty of Arizona with locally sourced ingredients. As a starter, the Chef’s Stone serves up a selection of cured meats from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage, accompanied by cheeses, roasted vegetables, olives and caramel nut brittle. Or, begin the meal with mussels braised in local Huss Brewing Company beer. Pomelo’s barbecue pork ribs are slow smoked with Arizona red oak, glazed with sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, and served with coleslaw and polenta cakes. Salads, pasta, seafood and sides round out a menu that has something for everyone.
And everyone is exactly who Lucia and her partners had in mind when they created the lush, outdoor space. Adirondack chairs, built by artisan Andrew Horvath of Anastasis in Prescott, surround a fire pit on the restaurant’s back patio. Cushioned patio furniture by Iron Creations graces the outdoor dining area, which can be rented for large parties. Lucia points out that utilizing local artists, makers and purveyors was of paramount importance throughout the project. The “barn” is another structure available for group events, with garage-style roll-up walls that open onto the lawn. Mature trees allow for dappled shade above the long, communal picnic tables (also made by Horvath) scattered about. It feels as though you’ve been invited to a neighbor’s beautiful backyard for a relaxing party with family and friends.
“The whole property is here to bring people together,” says Lucia. “We get so caught up in our work, in our lives and our devices that we forget how to be human to human again. This, we hope, is a place where you want to let it go and enjoy your surroundings. We want people to have the chance to appreciate the little things and experience those moments that truly count.”
Across the lawn is the former home of Ralph Castro, whose family once operated Ralph’s Citrus Nursery on the property. True to the adaptive reuse goals of the development, the original home has been preserved and expanded to hold Luci’s at The Orchard, an upscale market with simple, clean decor that gives an urban European feel. It is the second location for the successful Luci’s Healthy Marketplace just a few miles away. Patrons will find a selection of organic and natural products and unique gifts, along with sandwiches, salads, coffee, fresh juices, baked bread and a full bar.
Aside from indoor tables, there are several ways to enjoy the delights offered here: call-in orders can be picked up at the drive-through window, customers with Fido in tow can use the dog-friendly patio on the east side of the property, and those who want to dine al fresco can picnic on the lawn or use one of the tables on the central patio adjacent to the market — just steps away from a huge, old shade tree and splash pad for use during warmer months. The pad’s cement surround is adorned with little handprints that belong to the children of the ownership group and developers.
“All of us involved with creating this space either have children or grandchildren,” says Lucia. “We thought of how fun it would be for parents or groups of friends to be able to come and relax, have a nice meal and not have to always be telling their kids to be quiet. Here, the kids can run and enjoy themselves.”
Kids and adults will enjoy Splurge, an ice cream and candy shop adjacent to the splash pad with soft-serve ice cream, homemade cookies and other ice cream novelties, including adult shakes and popsicles to please the over 21 crowd. Orders can be made from inside or outside from service windows that open onto an outdoor counter.
In the spirit of community, many events are planned for the future, including yoga on the lawn, movie nights and “The Sharing Table,” a communal dining experience that will include a four- to six-course meal and wines, served family-style. The dinners feature a brief on the food and wine, and a chance to meet new friends.
“You’ll be sharing a table with potential friends,” says Lucia. “We will host the dinners on the lawn starting in October. We miss those connections, being able to meet new friends in everyday life. The Sharing Table will connect people.”
As a breast cancer survivor, Lucia is also acutely aware of the need to highlight members of the community who are fighting diseases and disabilities. Luci’s will represent a child each month who is fighting a disease or disability.
“Our goal is to make the community aware and provide an opportunity to support these families,” says Lucia. “I believe with all my heart that you have to give back. God has blessed us with this amazing opportunity and I want to use that platform to help others. This community is very special. This neighborhood and our employees are very special; we couldn’t do any of this without them. It’s working together and understanding where it all comes from. For me, my satisfaction comes from seeing people enjoy themselves here. If you’re an elderly person, you have a place to go, you can be a single person, a family … anyone. We will take care of you here.”
The Orchard Phx
7100 N. 12th St.